I think that by now, there are hundreds of novels and books about the decade of history between 1940-50, and yet, there continue to be new stories told, new chapters begun, new horrors and tragedies revealed, and we continue to be fascinated and appalled by what we have done to each other, and what we might do in the future.
Between Shades of Gray is another such tale that manages to add new dimensions to this epic decade, packed with historical material already. But while the name of Hitler brings to mind horrifying numbers and images, much less is known about Stalin’s regime and the equally horrific toll it took on the regions of Europe that fell behind the Iron Curtain. Ruta Sepetys, in her first novel, fills in those gaps with the story of a young family of Lithuanians who are separated and forcibly deported and detained by Soviet police, beginning a long and terrible journey that includes prison camps and the frozen landscape of Siberia.
The novel begins with Lina, an artistic teenage girl who is deported with her mother and brother, Jonas, and must discover the length and breadth of her courage and creativity in order to survive her family’s ordeal. The entire novel is written from Lina’s perspective, but her mother is equally well-drawn, if not even more vivid. The novel has its fair share of gut-wrenching scenes, and there’s a character who ends up prostituting herself to a group of armed guards, so the novel is definitely on the bleaker side of war literature (as opposed, I guess, to a darkly funny novel like Catch-22, maybe?) and not as heart-warming or inspiring as a classic like The Diary of Anne Frank. The ending felt tacked on, but at the same time, rushed, in the sense that I was so engrossed in the action and invested in the characters that I wanted to see more, which is a good thing, right?
I think this would be a very teachable book, especially for seventh or eighth grade, lending itself well to a unit with other holocaust or genocide stories and even cross-pollination with history or social studies classes. I can also see this being a great addition to literature circles with similar themes, and I think even could be taught well as a coming-of-age story, perhaps in conjunction with Anne Frank or others, like maybe even a story of child soldiers or civil war (I’m thinking What Is the What , perhaps?). Either way, it’s a valuable story, well-told, that deserves to be heard and will bring new dimensions to any students or young readers.
I received this book as an uncorrected galley from the publisher through an ad on Shelf Awareness, but was not compensated for this review beyond receiving a free galley.
- Between The Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys (wellreadspartans.wordpress.com)
- Shades of Gray (superbookworm.wordpress.com)